The Night Before Christmas was originally published as a #fridayflash in December of 2011. I was sorely tempted to change the ending but stories are not meant to be forced into something they are not, so I held back and simply tweaked. I hope you enjoy The Night Before Christmas, rated PG-13, according to my standards.
The Night Before Christmas, by Deanna Schrayer
Susan sinks to her knees on the velvet tree skirt and buries her face in her hands. The tears slipping through her fingers taste metallic, sour, stinging her tongue. This is the first Christmas Eve in her life she’s been alone. She tried several times today to call her husband, Barry, at the hotel where he’s been staying since the day after Thanksgiving. But she got no answer.
The wind blows harsh and fierce outside the bungalow and Susan shivers. She lies on her side beneath the Christmas tree, the tree she decorated by herself in a fit of false hope two days after Barry left. Now a silvery icicle slides down to caress her face, as if to comfort her.
Susan wants so much to be angry with her husband, she wants to march down to the elegant Mystic Haven Ritz and slap him. But she has no basis for such longing – it was Susan who drove Barry away, it was she who had the affair.
Still, the anger has to come out and so Susan pounds her legs with her fists, she beats herself until she feels the pain ease from her heart down into her thighs. Exhausted, she bunches the tree skirt up and bundles it beneath her head, her fiery gold curls spilling over the burgundy velvet, brushing the hard wood floor.
She tries to think of Barry – the man who appeared at just the right time, the man who saved her life – sitting here with her by the fire, holding her body against his, arousing her with his feathery kisses. But all she sees is Cliff. Her first husband’s hard-muscled hands kneading her shoulders as he bruises her lips with kisses, Cliff’s urgent need to stoke the fire coursing through Susan’s veins with a fire all his own, Cliff’s misty blue eyes scorching to violet as his desire for her grows hotter and stronger. Cliff…
Susan recalls the first Christmas she and Cliff were married, (in fact they wed on Christmas Eve, this would’ve been their twentieth anniversary had they made it past those first few years), how they spent Christmas day wrapped in each other’s arms underneath a down comforter in the ski lodge as the snow fell outside their window and the ethereal glow from the fireplace warmed their already heated bodies. By the next Christmas they were expecting their first child, by the next they were mourning the loss of that child, and by the next….well, there was no next.
Again, Susan scolds herself for allowing her thoughts to turn back to the man who nearly killed her before she finally left him. She should be thinking about her husband, her current husband, the man who devoted his life to her, the man who has loved her so completely, despite her many flaws, for the past fifteen years. “Oh, Barry,” she thinks, “how could I do this to you?!” Before she starts to cry again Susan rubs her eyes and forces herself to get up off the floor, to pull herself together and figure out how to save her marriage. “I’ll go see him tomorrow,” she decides. He’ll be at his mom’s for sure, as they always are on Christmas. She won’t call ahead, she’ll just show up as if everything is fine, as if nothing at all has happened, as if she never stepped foot back into Cliff’s life.
Susan goes to the kitchen and pours herself a drink – Jack and coke, (mostly Jack), and takes it with her to the bedroom where she goes into her closet to decide what to wear tomorrow. She wants to look better than she ever has; she wants to make Barry’s mouth hang open with yearning. She bends to reach for her black stiletto heels and catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looks like hell. Her usually emerald eyes are nearly as red as her hair, there are black mascara streaks staining her ruddy, swollen cheeks. But Susan doesn’t let the shock of her appearance deter her. She simply grabs her robe and heads to the bathroom.
After a hot bubble bath Susan is more relaxed, in much better spirits. She’s laid out Barry’s favorite dress and her velvet duster to slip on in the morning, has her makeup ready and waiting on her vanity; she’s even painted her nails, which normally feels like a chore but now has made her even more confident. Barry won’t be able to refuse her tomorrow, she’s certain of it. She has to be.
The two drinks Susan had, along with the bath, has, thankfully, relaxed her enough that she may be able to sleep tonight, so she locks up, turns the lights out, (but leaves the Christmas tree twinkling), and heads for bed.
Just as she’s about to drift off, there’s a knock at the door. It’s him! Her spirits soar, she’s wide awake in the time it took to hear that knock. Susan fluffs her freshly washed hair and licks her lips as she goes to let her husband inside. She’s so wound up she nearly trips over her robe as she reaches for the doorknob. Barely able to contain her excitement Susan opens the door and her arms wide in one fluid motion.
“Hey babe,” he says, leaning against the doorframe, “Happy anniversary.”
Susan stands dumbfounded, able to croak out no more than his name. “Cliff.”